Allegorical in the extreme, the psychological drama "Fabled" is a stylish endeavor that moodily evokes the downfall of its protagonist with decidedly mixed results. First-time writer-director Ari Kirschenbaum displays technical dexterity with the film's more abstract elements, but his attempt to unify the intentionally disjointed narrative is much less satisfying.
Joseph Fable's life is unraveling at a meteoric rate. When the film opens, his dog has run away and his girlfriend, Liz, has left him. He is plagued with guilt over some mysterious deed in his past and fears being caught. Inexplicably, he works at a loathsome job in an office full of cubicles despite asserting that he is wealthy enough not to work.
He suspects Liz (Katheryn Winnick) of sleeping with their mutual psychiatrist, Dr. Frumkes (Michael Panes), and inadvertently spies what appears to be a furtive memo about him being circulated by his co-workers. His rampant paranoia, which his only friend, Alex (J. Richey Nash), tells him is fueled by his excessive drug and alcohol intake, leads Joseph to hear haunting voices and sounds that seem to be stalking him.
Kirschenbaum punctuates the story with a voice-over by a young girl reading a parable about a wolf and a crow that seemingly parallels what is happening to Joseph. It is ultimately left up to the audience to decide how much of what is driving Joseph crazy is real.
It is a quirk of the film that both its title character and the actor who plays him, Desmond Askew, are aptly named. Just as Joseph's life is almost literally a fable, there is something amusingly off-center about Askew. He looks likes an odd hybrid of Vince Vaughn and David Hyde Pierce and moves as if a hanger has been shoved into his jacket and is being tugged at by an unseen puppeteer. With his worrisome forehead, Askew embodies a man who is deteriorating rapidly.
Kirschenbaum's strong suit is allowing us to see the world the way Joseph does. Director of photography Yaron Orbach's use of chiaroscuro creates a formidable environment for Joseph's descent.
Where "Fabled" flounders is when it attempts to reconcile the many contradictory story elements. Kirschenbaum mixes up a storm as he slices and dices Joseph's memories, real and imagined, but when it comes to making sense of it all, what seems like a cleverly fragmented tale proves to be a jigsaw puzzle with far too many missing pieces.
MPAA rating: Unrated.
Times guidelines: Some killing and blood, language.
Desmond Askew...Joseph Fable
J. Richey Nash...Alex
Michael Panes...Dr. Frumkes
An Indican Pictures release. Writer-director-editor Ari Kirschenbaum. Producers Peter I. Sabat, Rob Bellsey. Executive producers Bruce Kirschenbaum, Roy Frumkes. Director of photography Yaron Orbach. Costume designer Terri Matlin. Music Simple Simon, Jack Lingo. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.At Loews Cineplex Beverly Center 13, 8522 Beverly Blvd., (310) 652-7760; and Edwards Park Place 10, 3031 Michelson Drive, Irvine, (949) 440-0880.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun